Community-based actions improve maternal, newborn and child health across Timor-Leste’s largest muni

Community-based actions improve maternal, newborn and child health across Timor-Leste’s largest municipality

UNICEF Timor-Leste
Community-based actions improve maternal, newborn and child health across Timor-Leste’s largest municipality1
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2020/Monemnasi
11 September 2020

In Viqueque Municipality, a UNICEF-supported programme is seeing mothers deliver their babies in safer, better equipped and more adequately staffed health facilities

Viqueque Municipality, Timor-Leste: Safe and clean deliveries and essential newborn care are the right of every mother and child. That is why UNICEF is working to support the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Timor-Leste’s largest municipality – Viqueque – to ensure these services reach families across the district.

In the capital of Viqueque is the Viqueque Community Health Center (CHC), where four staff recently attended training provided by the National Institute of Health (INS) and supported by UNICEF. The training covered immunizations, nursing, cold chain and more. UNICEF has also provided equipment to the CHC, such as an autoclave – a heated container used in processes such as steam sterilization – and a baby warmer. 

This support has been crucial given the number of mothers who visit the CHC and the 13 other health posts that fall under its administration across the municipality. 

Between January and May 2020, 705 babies were born at one of these 13 health posts. During the same time period, 223 mothers visited one of these posts within 48 hours of giving birth, and 80 mothers visited within seven days of giving birth. Given that a mother’s trip to a health facility can often entail an hours-long walk, these figures are testament to the level of care being offered in Viqueque.

“This is my first baby,” says Juanita da Costa, 21. “I have been to the health center nine times for checkups, so I am confident and comfortable to deliver my baby here. The staff always treat me well – with respect – and I am happy with the care they provide.”

Ana Maria Sarmento, who has been a midwife since 1995, was one of the four staff who undertook the four-day training. “I feel proud because by working as a midwife, I am serving my fellow women in Viqueque, especially when they come to this maternity center to give birth,” she says.

Community-based actions improve maternal, newborn and child health across Timor-Leste’s largest municipality2
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2020/Monemnasi
Ana Maria Sarmento has been a midwife for 25 years and says the training she has received with support from UNICEF has given her a range of new skills and ways of approaching maternal, newborn and child health.

Ana Maria’s training also covered essential newborn care and safe and clean delivery – imperative for both healthy babies and healthy mothers. “The health workers always treat me with dignity, and they respect my privacy as well. They always ask for my permission before doing any tests,” Junita says.

Yet while the Viqueque CHC is showing great progress in improving the care on offer, even the farthest reaches of rural Timor-Leste have not been left untouched by the global coronavirus crisis.

Timor-Leste was in a State of Emergency between March and June, when restrictions on movement among other things resulted in a downturn among the number of women willing to seek care at health facilities. For some, they did not have the means to get to their nearest CHC, for others it was fear of being infected by COVID-19 that kept them away.

According to Francisco De Carvalho, the Director of Health Services in Viqueque Municipality, ensuring continued access to quality healthcare during the pandemic – especially for children and their mothers - has been central to his work since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We worked with community radio Viqueque to air information related to COVID-19 prevention, did street announcements in the community, and did social mobilization activities through community meetings to explain about the virus and the measures people should adopt to prevent its transmission,” he says. “We also collaborated with the church and NGOs on the dissemination of prevention messages.”

Messages and activities related to COVID-19 prevention have reached an estimated 1.2 million people across Timor-Leste; almost the entire population. Not only important in spreading awareness of the virus itself, these interventions are also crucial to the continuation of essential services and protecting the stability of the future of the country, and the health of its children and mothers.

As Health Services Director De Carvalho says: “My dream is that the status of children’s health will be better one day; that every single child in Timor-Leste has complete immunization and there is no malnutrition anywhere.”